What Does Healthy Look Like?

As a yogi, a runner, a woman and a researcher, focusing my PhD in the field of human wellbeing, I am constantly being faced with situations that have me asking myself: “What does healthy really look like?”

I often wonder, is healthy subjective or objective? Can healthy look different for each person? I know human wellbeing can vary by the individual’s experience,  but can health as well?

I imagine that if I sent out a questionnaire asking what healthy means to individuals, people would come up with a variety of answers that would vary greatly by country of origin and gender. Before, I would have assumed, with certainty, that Western women would say, “skinny”.

After considering this further, I do not believe that women even consider their health at all when trying to attain the Holy Grail that is being thin. I find this slightly terrifying.

At yoga each day I see women of all ages who are so thin that I can see their entire pelvis through their yoga costumes when they bend over. I do know some people have conditions where they cannot gain weight, and I am not here to judge anyone for their size, but I just am wondering, is skinny all it is cracked up to be. What is so appealing about having no fat?

One of my best friends in the world told me the other day that I have an “intimidatingly amazing body.” This of course made me laugh; she is skinnier than me and can crush me in a 10K race. And me? Oh my do I have cellulite, and huge thighs and I lost my 6 pack at some point in my late 20s and  I can’t tan to save my soul and OH MY GOD!!

And then I start to think about it for more than a second, and the final conclusion is generally: who really cares.

Seriously. Seriously. Who cares? Does anyone reading this care ? Ok, I was probably hotter in my 20s, but here is what my brain looked like in my 20s:

Oh my gosh, did I really have that extra slice of pizza? Oh my gosh, I am so fat, why am I so stupid, why did I eat so much? Look at her, she is so skinny, why don’t I have self-control like her? Why do I have to be such a fat slob? Oh gosh now there are brownies, I can’t eat brownies, I already had too much food. What if I run tomorrow? By my calculations I could run 12 miles and then I could have that brownie, but it has to be 12, or I won’t lose weight, and I am already fat and need to be skinnier. So tomorrow I will have carrots for breakfast and lunch and then for dinner I can have a piece of toast. And usually I am so hungry from starving myself that I over eat by dinner time, but I have to have more control over this so I can be SKINNY!!!!!

Holy Mother!! Living like that for 10 years makes you a lunatic. How much energy was I wasting? I could have finished 4 PhDs by now if I had just spent that energy on forces of good instead of on food and how much I hated my thighs! And who even wants to hang out with that girl??

Now, in my 30s, my brain looks like this:

Yum that pizza was good. Oh yay! Now there are brownies!

Wouldn’t you so rather be friends with THAT girl? And the next day I go to yoga or go for a run, and don’t think about brownies or pizza, and things like salads and healthy foods look and sound good to me and I am a normal weight, athletic and happy. Why is this? What is the magical secret? I will tell you, it did not happen overnight, but it happened. Are you ready for the big magical secret?:

Chill out and love yourself for who you are and stop worrying about how much you weigh. Start defining what is healthy for you and strive for that. And screw everyone else and screw being skinny.

Then once you stop caring, you will get to be and stay a normal healthy weight.

The real question is, what does your mental attitude have to do with your waistline? Answer: a lot! Bear with me, it is not that complex.

Health encompasses not only the physical, but also mental, social and emotional. When you try to focus too much on one, your life falls out of balance. It is important to keep each one in check. If you are too focused on your physical health, or in reality being skinny, and neglect friendships and doing the things you enjoy, you won’t be able to keep weight off. Instead you will be suffering and you will crash and burn because of your crazy person diet.

My friend Carla, a nutritionist and health coach, (a damn fine one at that, find her here) explained it to me more simply. She said, “remember what it was like when you were a kid and your mom had to beg you to come inside and eat? Remember when food was not a priority, but fun was?”  At that time we ate to live and we ate because food was delicious, but it was not our obsession. That is what our lives should be like; we need to work on that balance and it is possible to find it.

So what I am getting at here is that health is not about how you look, and  you are not going to be happier if you are skinnier, you just aren’t; you are going to be the same person in a smaller size. At the same time, you are not going to look like a runway model if you are healthy, because, let’s face it, most runway models are not actually healthy and so very few look happy! I could be wrong, as I am clearly not a runway model, but I assume if skinny equaled happy, models would be penning books titled “The Guide to Happiness” and in their free time they would be kicking it with the Dalai Lama.

So lets get some stuff straight. First, we need to understand that health has almost nothing to do with how much you weigh. I am serious, it has been proven that people who regularly engage with healthy emotional, social, physical and mental practices have statistically insignificant differences in their risk of death. These two TED talks demonstrate both of these points and I recommend them: Sandra Aamodt talks about it here  and Jane McGonigal here.

Second, your physical health is so important. I mean how many times do you wish someone good health and actually mean “I hope you get skinnier soon?” Never! You want your friends and family to be healthy and you won’t care if they put on 10 or 20 pounds, you just won’t. You will love them in all of their shapes and they feel the same about you. Be healthy for them, be healthy for you.

Third, beauty is fleeting, but health does not have to be, and being healthy does not have to hurt. So move your body, but do things you like to do. Don’t run if you hate it, do what you enjoy: rock climbing, walking, dancing, swimming, playing with your kids or your dog, just move! Then be proud of what your body can do, where it can take you and how strong it is. Screw the rest.

Fourth, try to pay attention to your body, it knows what you need. This is not some new-age crap, either. Does your body not tell you when it is thirsty, hungry, tired? It knows what you need. Try to stay tuned in and it will guide you. Trust it, it is smart!

Finally, stop trying to be perfect. There is no such thing. So what if the girl next to you is prettier than you. She might even be smarter and more fun at parties, but you are you, and that is unique as it gets, epic and priceless. People love you for being you. Can you imagine that? All you do is exist, and people love you. Who could ask for more?

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